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Useful tips on reducing your IT budget

Useful tips on reducing your IT budget

You can easily lower your IT budget by better managing your print infrastructure. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s totally doable. Companies big and small follow inefficient printing models without even realizing it, but you can break the mold by following these tips:

Replace outdated printers

Outdated and cheap printers may be functional, but they are putting a huge dent in your IT budget.

Any piece of equipment that is seven years old (or older) requires frequent repairs and causes more trouble than it’s worth. Because old printers are no longer under warranty, fixing them is more costly and challenging. It’s also difficult to replace parts for old printers because manufacturers have stopped carrying them for models that have been phased out.

When you replace outdated equipment with newer, multi-functional printers, you’re investing in hardware that will pay for itself with increases in productivity and efficiency.

Avoid purchasing unnecessary supplies

A poorly managed printer environment could result in a stockpile of cartridges, toners, and reams of paper. This happens when, for example, an employee uses a printer that’s about to run out of ink and makes an unnecessary request for a new ink or toner. This is more common than you may think, and definitely more expensive.

In the absence of a dedicated printer manager, you can avoid this situation by automating supply replacement. Assign a point person to proactively place orders when supplies are about to run out, so your company can avoid needless purchases.

Impose strict process workflows

Submitting expense reports, filing reimbursements, and other administrative tasks require a proper document workflow. Without a guideline, employees and administrative staff tend to print an unnecessary amount of documents.

Automate your company’s document-driven processes to reduce or prevent redundant print jobs that result in stacks of abandoned documents. Not only is it wasteful, it’s also a security and privacy concern.

Go paperless

Designing a document management solution that reduces paper consumption is the best way to save money. It may not be possible in every department, but those who can do their jobs without printing should be encouraged to do so by management. Printing lengthy email chains that can be discussed in a meeting is just one example of a wasteful practice that should be avoided.

Reduce IT support calls for printing issues

Calling your company’s IT guys to assist with problems like paper jams, printer Wi-Fi issues, and other concerns reduces employee frustration. You and your IT personnel could avoid dealing with these productivity killers by identifying the problem areas of your print environment. Then, you can work on solutions specific to your office, such as drafting a printing workflow, or getting help from document management experts who can recommend time- and budget-saving solutions.

Having a group of experts manage your IT workflow can make your day-to-day operations more efficient and help you save on printing costs. Our experts will gladly recommend best practices and tips on document management. Call us today.

 

Benefits of virtualizing Windows on your Mac

Benefits of virtualizing Windows on your Mac

A common reason for running the Windows operating system (OS) on a Mac computer is to bypass compatibility issues. Virtualization is the only way to efficiently install OS-specific software on any machine, so let’s go over some of the ways this solution creates synergy between the two platforms.

Configure an entire machine with a few clicks

With programs like VMware and Parallels, installing Microsoft’s OS on your Mac is almost as easy as creating a new document in Office. The process varies between vendors, but it’s usually akin to clicking File and New and then choosing between Windows XP, 7, 8 or 10, and typing in your product key.

Deciding how much hard drive space and RAM get devoted to your virtual machine is also simple and user-friendly. For example, allocating memory to your Windows partition is done by sliding a marker along a scale that is color-coded based on the recommendations of your virtualization software.

Once you’ve completed these simple steps, click Finish and the rest will be configured for you.

Picture-in-picture computing

Older OS virtualization solutions forced you to choose which platform you would use by presenting the options while the computer was still booting up. Once you picked one operating system, there was no way to switch without restarting the whole computer.

Now, you can open Windows as if it were just another desktop application. This is especially useful when you need to work in both OSs simultaneously. Just adjust your Windows screen to half the size of your monitor and use the other half for MacOS applications.

Another reason this is so important is because it allows you to run multiple versions of Windows at the same time. Half of your screen could be running an outdated application in Windows XP while the other half is working in Windows 10.

Touchbar support

The customizable touchscreen that was added to Apple’s most recent line of laptops is a great way to create shortcuts and increase productivity. Virtualization applications have added Touch Bar support so you can use it to interact with Windows applications.

For example, a Touch Bar button for opening Cortana — Microsoft’s AI assistant — is included in the Parallels virtualization software. Alternatively, you can also use Apple’s keyboard touch screen to toggle between virtual OSs or interact with your Mac while still working in Windows.

Single Application Mode

Containers are a popular subset of virtualization solutions that allow you to give users access to a single application rather than an entire OS. Unfortunately, they are incredibly difficult to set up and manage. Updates to Mac virtualization software have simplified the process with a “Single Application Mode” whereby administrators can grant employees access to preconfigured Windows partitions with only one program installed.

Snapshots

Regardless of whether you’re a certified virtualization professional or a consumer trying to make it work with low-cost software, everyone makes mistakes. With saved configurations of Windows installs known as Snapshots, you can start over without having to set up everything from scratch.

If one of your Windows partitions becomes infected with malware, loading a Snapshot rolls everything back to its original state so you don’t have to configure the virtual hardware or retype the Windows product key. Best of all, restoring a Snapshot is much quicker than a fresh install.

Taking advantage of everything virtualization has to offer involves a lot of IT planning and maintenance. Fortunately, it’s all within reach for small- and medium-sized businesses that partner with a managed IT services provider. Contact us today to learn more!

 

How to use OneNote like a pro

How to use OneNote like a pro

Can you list all the apps in the Microsoft Office suite? Did you forget OneNote? It’s often overlooked, but Microsoft’s note-taking app is incredibly useful for everything from brainstorming sessions to learning courses. Let’s go over what it takes to get started with OneNote.

OneNote is a digital notebook

Despite the visual similarities, the thing that sets OneNote apart from Word is the way it stores and displays saved information. In OneNote, one window displays all your Notebooks, which can contain several pages and separate documents.

To create a Notebook, click File and then New. From there, you’ll be given the option to create a new Notebook, which can be saved locally to OneDrive or to SharePoint.

A Notebook will help you organize several types of information in one space, so let’s imagine we’ve named a SharePoint Notebook “New Product Ideas” and clicked Create New.

Next, you’ll be looking at a blank screen with “New Product Ideas” in the upper left-hand corner. To get the most out of OneNote, we need to start organizing our Notebook.

Separate your Notebook into Sections

Every Notebook is organized into Sections, similar to what dividers do in a physical notebook. For example, our New Product Ideas Notebook might be divided into Sections based on things like design, price and materials.

Sections are shown as color-coded tabs along the top of the screen, next to the name of your Notebook. You simply click the ‘+’ button to create a new section.

Start filling your Sections with useful Pages

Up until this point, OneNote seems like little more than a Word document with improved organization. But Pages in OneNote are built so that different types of media can be dropped into your pages with the click of a button.

So let’s say you’ve bookmarked a number of websites with reference images you want to add to your Design Section. Open up Design and select Add New Page on the right-hand side of the screen. Right-click it and name the page, and in our example this could be Ideas from online.

One way to insert the images from your bookmarked webpages is to save them to your computer and then drag each icon onto your OneNote Page where the image will automatically appear.

However, with Microsoft’s OneNote Web Clipper this can be done much more easily. After installing the browser extension, open it and select what you want to save from the web page with your cursor. The Web Clipper will ask which OneNote Page you want to save the selection to and it will automatically be added.

Start experimenting!

Now that you understand how to organize your information, you can experiment with linking Pages from different notebooks, adding category tags to Pages, and inserting online videos into your notes.

If you’re worried about a Notebook becoming overly complicated, don’t worry. Above the Pages pane is a search bar that you can use to find keywords from Notebook titles, Section titles and Pages content.

You could spend an entire year learning the ins and outs of every Microsoft Office application, but a faster way would be to let us help you cut through the clutter with practical recommendations and assistance. Call us today!

 

Microsoft’s latest patch fixes critical Windows security issues

Microsoft’s latest patch fixes critical Windows security issues

Every month, Microsoft releases a large number of fixes and improvements for Windows. The latest August patch includes fixes for 48 vulnerabilities, with more than half listed as critical. If you’re a Windows user and your desktop is due for a software update, here are the essentials you need to know.

Windows Search

Microsoft discovered a flaw that hackers could remotely exploit to take full control over an affected computer. The hacker could then install programs, view, change or delete data, and create new accounts with full user rights. The August security updates address the vulnerability by fixing how your computer’s memory interacts with Windows Search objects.

Windows Hyper-V

Another critical vulnerability is tied to Windows Hyper-V, a virtualization program. This flaw can be exploited when a server fails to properly verify an authenticated user from a virtual desktop.

For example, cyber criminals could exploit the vulnerability by running a malicious application on a guest operating system and cause the server to malfunction. The latest patch plugs the hole by correcting how Hyper-V validates guest operating system user input.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft security specialists revealed that the Edge browser is exposed to a remote memory-corruption vulnerability. Hackers can exploit this by luring an unsuspecting user to open a fake website that contains malicious programs. The new security update addresses the issue by modifying how Microsoft Edge handles objects in memory.

These are just a few examples of the critical vulnerabilities addressed in the August updates. In total, Microsoft patched 48 vulnerabilities in six of its main product categories, including Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, SharePoint, Adobe Flash Player, and SQL Server. If you’re interested in all the security updates, check out Microsoft’s official Security Update Guide.

As a Windows user, you’re probably used to seeing pop-up messages that implore you to install a new Windows update. Take heed: These patches and updates cost you nothing and can be installed in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is give your consent with a couple of mouse clicks, so there really is no excuse for not updating.

It’s important to update to the latest Windows version to ensure your computer and data are safe from security threats. If you have any questions about Windows updates or need help scheduling them, get in touch with our experts today.

 

Locky-type ransomware is attacking systems

Locky-type ransomware is attacking systems

A new, Locky-type ransomware is currently infecting tens of thousands of computers worldwide. It uses the same code from the 2016 version to encrypt users’ files and it looks poised to cause another massive cyber emergency. Here’s everything we know so far.

Quick facts

According to a threat intelligence report, the email-based ransomware attacks started on August 9 and were detected through 62,000 phishing emails in 133 countries in just three days. It also revealed that 11,625 IP addresses were used to carry out the attacks, with the IP range owners consisting mostly of internet service providers and telecom companies.

How it works

The malicious email contains an attachment named “E 2017-08-09 (580).vbs” and just one line of text. Like the original Locky authors, attackers responsible for the new variant deploy social engineering tactics to scam recipients into opening the attached .doc, zip, pdf, .jpg or tiff file, which installs the ransomware into their systems.

When an unsuspecting user downloads the file, the macros run a file that provides the encryption Trojan with an entry point into the system. The Trojan then encrypts the infected computer’s files.

Once encryption is completed, the user receives instructions to download the Tor browser so they can access the “dark web” for details on how to pay the ransom. To retrieve their encrypted files, users will be asked to pay from 0.5-1 Bitcoin.

What you need to do

This ransomware variant builds on the strengths of previous Trojans. In fact, the original Locky strain made it easy for cyber criminals to develop a formidable ransomware that could evade existing cyber security solutions. This is why adopting a “deny all” security stance, whereby all files are considered unsafe until proven otherwise, is the best way to avoid infection.

Here are other tips to avoid infection:

  • Don’t open unsolicited attachments in suspicious emails. Alert your IT staff, and most importantly disallow macros in Microsoft Office unless they’ve been verified by your IT team.
  • Performing regular backups guarantees you never have to pay cyber criminals a ransom. If all other security measures fail, you can always rely on your backups, which protect your business not just from cyber crime-related disasters, but also from natural and other unforeseen system failures.
  • Train your staff to identify online scams like phishing. This and other similar ransomware strains take advantage of users’ lack of cyber security training.
  • Update your operating systems as soon as updates become available to reduce, or eliminate, the chances of your system’s vulnerabilities being exploited.

Even with a trained staff and the latest protections installed, your IT infrastructure may still have unidentified security holes. Cyber security experts can better evaluate your entire infrastructure and recommend the necessary patches for your business’s specific threats. To secure your systems, get in touch with our experts now.